I have been on sabbatical now, living in London, since the beginning of this year. During that whole time I have yet to write a single article for the Speccie focused on Brexit. Why? Well, in part it’s because anyone who tells you how this is going to play out is deluding himself, and the readers. Another factor has been Theresa May, whom I detest. She took a series of explicit manifesto promises to the last election – including that there’d be no customs union, that ‘No Deal’ is better than a ‘Bad Deal’, that there’d be no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice, that Britain would be out for sure on the specified exit day, and implicitly, to an extent that it didn’t need mentioning, that there’d be ‘No Second Referendum’ – and then slowly over time she proceeded to break, or try to break, every single one of them. Her proposed Withdrawal Agreement that she repeatedly tried to ram through Parliament was so bad that it was worse than staying in the EU, and I mean that from the perspective of Brexiteers like me. Theresa May took political dishonesty to a height I did not imagine existed. She will go down as the worst British Prime Minister since the eighteenth century when political incompetence let the 13 North American colonies slip away – and even with that alternative in play Theresa May might well be straight out the worst ever. Thus is the fate of this Remainer PM trying to run a party of overwhelmingly Leaver members and voters.
And then there was a third factor, that watching the ruling elites (the political, business, media and academic castes) work as hard as they could to ignore – no, actively to over-ride – the decision of a majority of fellow voters so as to render it emasculated and of no effect, was incredibly depressing. I am a big partisan of democracy. When the bulk of a country’s representative MPs attempt to do exactly the opposite of what the majority of voters made clear it wanted, well, it’s pretty dispiriting. And it has incredibly bad long-term consequences as far as trust in politics and of one’s elected MPs is concerned. All up, therefore, I opted not to write on Brexit. Till now. You see in the last week or so things have changed big time. First off, the Conservative party MPs finally decided to force Theresa May out. The Tories had sunk like a lead balloon in the polls, to the point that a brand new party that hadn’t even existed seven weeks ago – Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party – was miles ahead of them. And May had lost total control of Parliament and was actively conspiring with Jeremy Corbyn, yes the socialist Labor leader who hates Trump but likes today’s Venezuela, Iran, former IRA types and others of that ilk and leads a party where anti-Semitism is rife. Yep, May was trying to do a deal with that man, to get Labour votes to ram her appalling deal through over the heads of her own party. So they finally, possibly too late, forced her out.
But be perfectly clear about this. Theresa May was only removed because of Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party. The preponderance of Tory MPs and most of its Cabinet are Remainers and they were happy to carry on with May until their very future in Parliament became an issue because of the Brexit Party.
And that takes me to the European Union elections. How can I put this? The Tories, the country’s governing party, had its worst result ever (meaning in over two centuries). They were slaughtered. Their vote count was in single digits, under nine per cent. There is now the serious possibility that the world’s oldest democratic party might not exist in a couple of years. And boy do they deserve that fate!
Here’s what you need to remember about the EU. It’s not undemocratic so much as anti-democratic. A bunch of unelected bureaucrats in the European Commission proposes laws, not the so-called Parliament. Take away all the fig-leafs and the Parliament performs little more than a veto function. Plus you can’t in any plausible way bring down a government. Democratic accountability is minimal. All in all, as I’ve said in one or two academic articles, what the Brits left behind in Hong Kong – even though now under the communist Chinese – looks more democratic (in the sense of responsive to majoritarian concerns) than what you see in the EU. The core and fundamental reason for wanting out of the EU is that you, the voter, want to live in a democracy. And that desire can trump short-term economic factors – and we know that for certain because when in the late 1700s the thirteen colonies revolted against Britain the potential economic costs for them were huge (not to mention these colonists paid a lot less tax at the time than their confreres in Britain did) and by the standards of the day they had more democracy than Brits do in the EU today. The Americans still chose democracy over short-term economic concerns. I feel that way today about the EU.
Of course that is to assume or suppose that the EU is in fact a successful economic supranational body. And that is highly questionable in and of itself. Certainly over the last couple of decades it has had the slowest economic growth on the planet. Arch-Remainer Financial Times journalist Wolfgang Munchau describes the EU’s single market as ‘a macroeconomic non-event’ and ‘a cosy corporate club’. The euro currency, imposed on most of the EU over the heads of the voters, including Germany’s, has arguably ‘created the gravest ever avoidable peacetime economic disaster for Europe’ (to quote economist Andrea Hosso)… and ‘destroyed Southern Europe and especially Greece’. Leave aside that the austerity it has fostered ‘has been a staunch EU policy driven primarily by German interests’.
Put it no higher than this. It is ridiculous to think that the UK, the world’s fifth biggest economy, cannot succeed on regular WTO trading terms when tiny New Zealand can. And Australia can. Short-term costs? Yes. An economic meltdown? You’ve been drinking too much Kool-Aid and fallen victim to that old EU-time religion my friend.
So where to now? Leave it at this. If the Tories don’t pick a committed Leaver as their next leader (and so PM), they’re finished. And even if they do – Boris for all his faults would be my choice – they still might be finished. It depends on how hard the new leader is prepared to take on all the committed and sometimes hidden Remainer elements in the Tory Party.
All that said, there is hope for Brexiteers like me for the first time this calendar year.
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